The Value of Coding in Schools

pubpd-codingSince the last #PubPD topic on “Coding in the Classroom”, I have been thinking about my discussions with Andrew and Scott. You can review the Twitter chat archived on Storyfy by

First a little about my experiences to establish my bias. I first learned to code in 1984. Our high school had recently acquired a handful of Commodore PET computers sharing a dual floppy drive and audio cassette media storage. It was on this device I learned to code in BASIC and coded an simple version of PONG.

Image via WikiMedia Commons
Image via WikiMedia Commons

As the technology evolved I learned to code in Pascal and COBOL. In 1988 I learned about FORTAN and SPSSx while utilizing new network protocols like gopher, telnet, listservers, usenet, and email. Now in 2016…I have no idea how today’s modern coding languages work. I tried to learn python but lost interest after a few weeks, it was to abstract. The only code I still regularly work with is HTML, CSS and CLI Linux commands. Not exactly the type of coding skills needed to make the next billion dollar app. However, it lets me function online and customize my server and website to reflect the “look and feel” I am trying to achieve. You could say I have moved away from being a coder and have become a code tweaker. I am not afraid to dive into code and modify it to suit my needs, but I lack the skills to create something new.

The importance of coding to me is similar to how I approach automobile maintenance.

I don’t know how to build a car but I can maintain it by changing the oil or changing a flat tire. These were skills I learned in automotive class in high school. I did learn to do more, but as cars became more complicated I am hesitant to go beyond these basic tasks. However, I can still tell if I am being overcharged for servicing and I can change my own tire if I get a flat.

Students should be given the opportunity to learn coding and what it takes to build simple programs. Not only will it introduce them to the skill, but many of the problems found in computer science will allow them to develop problem-solving skills.

Employers value the ability to problem-solve, process information, and be proficient with technology (Forbes). Coding forces us to think different than we would in an English class. The logic and sequential problem solving that it introduces will allow students to develop a different set of skills that can be utilized. This is not to say that those skills developed in English class are not valuable, they are just different but equally important. Coding and computer science will also likely be one of the top employment sectors when todays students graduate from college and university. According to, more than 75% of computer science based jobs are unfilled in the United States and the statistics can be expected to be similar in Canada.

We need to do more for our students. We need to develop a coherent plan to provide students with a basic education in coding and computer science. It is a valuable skill that will provide students with more opportunities.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Axe Throwing with my PLN

photo via Olympia Aquatics (
photo via Olympia Aquatics (

We had an impromptu sleep over last night with 4 fifteen year old boys who play soccer together. As I was making coffee, I was dreading going outside to clean up the backyard after their midnight swim. When I sat at my kitchen table to enjoy my coffee and survey what had to be done in the backyard I noticed that the boys had already cleaned up the yard. I was pleased…then not pleased. I was not pleased at myself for assuming that 4 teenage boys were going to leave a mess behind them.

Assumptions are not based on fact but from personal experience from only a single viewpoint. So where did my assumption come from? As I reflected on this I recognized it was from my experiences in the classroom. After the bell signals the end of the period I usually walk around the room to see if anything needs tidying up. I often find textbooks, calculators, wrappers, and often they are where the boys were seated. Did the forgetting of textbooks and littering create my mindset that all teenage boys are forgetful and messy? Sure some are, but the word “all” is the problem. I was painting the boys in my backyard with the same brush as a few of the boys in my classroom. Do students assume things about teachers?

As a teacher, I am also aware that students sometimes forget we are regular people too. When I see them at the grocery store or the mall there is always a sense of shock to see me outside of school. There is even a greater shock when you tell them things like how you spent the weekend riding your motorcycle or going axe throwing with your friends.

axeYes, axe throwing is a real thing and tonight I will be going for the second time with teachers from my Professional Learning Network (PLN). I am not sure why I find this uniquely Canadian activity so satisfying. But I do blame Jane, Herman, and Andrea for introducing me to it. It would be safe to assume that this is not a normal activity for “teachers”, but, it is a lot of fun and a fantastic team builder. Twelve members of my PLN are getting together later today to go to BATL Grounds to learn axe throwing. It is very different than how we typically spend our time talking about education and how to better prepare students. However, during this activity we get to laugh at each other, have some competition, and spend time together learning a new skill. It gives us an opportunity to see each other as regular people doing something that others might think of as silly.

I guess it is time to lose the assumption that all teenage boys are messy and that teachers only talk about teaching. There is one assumption I am keeping…teenage boys are always hungry.

Thinking About Bots

ramos alejandro via flickr
bot-bot by ramos alejandro via flickr

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking more and more about bots. I have gotten used to asking Siri simple searchable questions. I also find I don’t type text messages anymore, instead I am using the voice typing found in the Android keyboard and “OK Google” is something I catch myself saying quite often. I even talk to my car to change the station or temperature. Voice is becoming a normal method for me to interact with technology.

The newest generation of devices and initiatives by the big technology companies have got me speculating about the power of bots and how we might use them in the future. I am really looking forward to when we talk to our rooms like in Star Trek. I was immediately impressed when I looked at what Amazon’s Alexa is capable of, then disappointed it was not available in Canada. I found the Microsoft Bot Framework announcement intriguing. Google is also getting into the picture with CleverBot. All of these bots are experiments and very early in their development so we can expect them to have some issues. For example it only took a few hours for the Microsoft chatbot, Tay, to be “pwned“.

I am looking forward to my “personal assistant bot” to listen to me and automate parts of my life. For example, I am hoping I can say to my phone, “Set up a dinner appointment with Sharon next week.” Then my bot will talk to Sharon’s bot and they will exchange calendar information to determine the best time to meet. Then do some deep data analysis of my GPS history and other data to determine when and where we like to eat and compromise on a time and cuisine. Once a time is established, my bot will make a reservation using an API for an app like OpenTable. Once the reservation is made it will confirm the reservation with Sharon’s bot and then both bots will add the event to our personal calendars.

It does not sound all that exciting, but the time it will save is huge. For example, I am currently trying to find a good meeting time with 8 people. We are using Doodle to schedule the meeting but it will likely take days and a reminder email before everyone inputs their information. Using a bot, this could happen in minutes (or even seconds). Of course we will have to give up some privacy as this data will have to be stored somewhere and there is always a risk that the information will get out in a data breach.

I guess the big question we will have to address on an individual level, how important is our personal information and is it worth surrendering it for additional benefits and convenience. I know what I am willing to surrender.


Tech and Teachers

While scrolling through Twitter I came across this tweet from David Warlick (@dwarlick):

It got me thinking about changes in “edtech”. Over the past decade I have attending various conferences and I have noticed a steady change in the content of the presentations. What I am most impressed by is how educators who have embrace “edtech” have moved away from gadgets and doodads and have shifted to looking at technology to innovate education. In other words, my colleagues are not just looking for the next shiny new tool to try out. Instead, they are trying to improve their teaching by taking a pedagogical sound approach to learning. Only then are they trying to find the right “edtech” tool to enhance the experience for students. Sometimes the tool might be a new mobile app, while at other times, it is the use of coloured pencils and chart paper.

To me it looks like teachers are moving away from the shiny new gadget and are instead looking at these tools with the same critical eye we look at chalk or whiteboard markers. The questions about “edtech” tools have also changed from, “How do I fit this into my lesson?” to “Will this help my student to learn?” It is becoming less about the “latest and greatest” and more about how “edtech” enhances the learning experience.

Back to conferences. I have really notice a shift here in Ontario. At a recent conference, the majority of the sessions I attended where facilitated by Ontario educators for whom the pedagogy came first. As the sessions progressed, the “edtech” was demonstrated and explained to the audience while at the same time continually tied back to sound pedagogy. At the same conference I was left feeling puzzled at the end of a keynote that mostly consisted of a list of “edtech” tools. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have done these same presentations, but that was almost a decade ago when “edtech” was still in its infancy. I did not expect it from high profile speakers.

I continue to be amazed at the quality of speakers at Ontario education conferences. Congratulations to all the Ontario educators out there who are modernizing student learning from a factory model to a problem solving model that is more inline with a technological age. I look forward to learning from you at the next conference.

GAFE and Google Classroom

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend EdCampWR with educators from both elementary and secondary schools. They were from both the public and separate school systems. There were even a few administrators, a Google Engineer, an independent school educator, and a few business people. Not a bad mix of people for a Saturday Un-Conference to talk about education.

EdCampWaterlooRegion About Ed Camp Waterloo

There were a couple of discussion I participated in where people were interested in integrating technology into their teaching. Flipped classrooms came up a number of times and I was able to provide a link to my previous blog post about “Flipping the Library” that demonstrated many of the techniques useful to the classroom teacher.

Another topic that came up was how to use Google Classroom. Over the past few weeks I have been working on a collection of video tutorials to show my colleagues the benefits of Google Classroom and how to integrate it into their teaching. These videos along with other resources were collected onto a website to share at an upcoming PD session I will be leading in the near future for the WRDSB. I will be adding a few more videos later this week to finish the video series. I hope you find it useful.